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'Sufficiently wealthy to buy London'


Following my principles: the personal cost
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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By this time, I had for several years not been receiving a salary, had several of my children in university, using up our savings, and receiving $104 a week in unemployment compensation. So we were living on $104 a week, a family of five children. I went from full professor at Stanford to unemployment compensation line, receiving that amount of money. And I would do it all over again because I preserved the principle that I believed in, that there were... that there are several stakeholders in continuously propagable cell populations, and that was a significant element in my decision to have an out-of-court settlement.

My attorneys were, by the documents that we signed initially, obligated to take my case to trial, which I wanted to do, I wanted it established in law, but my family was by this time suffering. The attorneys would have had to pay an enormous sum of money to take this case to trial, and since they were serving me so wonderfully gratis, I didn't have the stomach to ask them to spend $100,000, which it would have cost them in their time and expenses, to take this case to trial, which is very expensive in the US and I'm sure in many other countries. And so we... I agreed, 'Okay, let's have an out-of-court settlement.'

The out-of-court settlement is public knowledge. It essentially said... it essentially had the goal of giving the government an opportunity to save a little bit of face. So all... by this time, during that seven years in the United States, and I think it's true in the UK, interest rates had skyrocketed. Interest rates during a couple of those years were 13%, 14%, 15%, so that the original $20,000 or $25,000, whatever it was that was in contention, or $10,000, I don't remember now, had reached about $90,000, in interest, in compound interest.

So the out-of-court settlement that we agreed upon said that all of the funds would be returned to me. The government said, 'Okay, we don't want the funds', which eventually went to my lawyers in their entirety, and they deserved every penny of it because it cost them more than $90,000; these are two law firms involved here. Secondly, the ampoules of WI-38 that they had confiscated from my laboratory would be in part returned to me. In order to have them save face, they said, 'Okay, you can have some of the ampoules.' Because I knew from my... what they didn't know, and that is that a small number of ampules would allow me to continue to supply my friends with whatever they wanted, gratis, and it would satisfy my interest in knowing that I was the only scientist in the United States who had legal possession of this number of ampoules of a continuous cell population; no one else has that legal right in the United States, even to this day.

Leonard Hayflick (b. 1928), the recipient of several research prizes and awards, including the 1991 Sandoz Prize for Gerontological Research, is known for his research in cell biology, virus vaccine development, and mycoplasmology. He also has studied the ageing process for more than thirty years. Hayflick is known for discovering that human cells divide for a limited number of times in vitro (refuting the contention by Alexis Carrel that normal body cells are immortal), which is known as the Hayflick limit, as well as developing the first normal human diploid cell strains for studies on human ageing and for research use throughout the world. He also made the first oral polio vaccine produced in a continuously propogated cell strain - work which contributed to significant virus vaccine development.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Stanford

Duration: 4 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2013

Date story went live: 14 June 2013